Kenyon Martin told his New York Knicks teammates to dress for a funeral on Wednesday and J.R. Smith swore the Knicks would've closed things out if he'd played in Game 4. But the Boston Celtics are leaving Madison Square Garden very much alive after scoring an impressive 92-86 win in Game 5 of their best-of-seven series, and given the horrendous night Smith had, Knicks fans might've preferred he take this one off, too.
"We was going to a funeral, man, but it looks like we got buried," Smith said after the game. "I'm done with this black stuff."
The Celtics, though, aren't done. Not after Jeff Green scored 18 points, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter, to lead five Celtics in double figures in the win, which saw Boston take a page out of New York's playbook by shooting a sterling 11 for 22 from 3-point range to cut New York's series lead to 3-2. The Knicks, on the other hand, bore very little resemblance to the team that boasted the league's third most efficient offense during the regular season, shooting just 5 for 22 from distance and 39.5 percent from the floor overall to produce at a rate (95.8 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com's stat tool) that would've ranked below the Washington Wizards' league-worst unit this year.
The win made the Celtics just the 11th team in 103 NBA playoff series to fight back from an 0-3 deficit to force a Game 6, which will take place at what figures to be a rocking TD Garden in Boston on Friday.
Only three have pushed it to Game 7. None have won the series. Celtics coach Doc Rivers wouldn't mind changing that.
"I mean, I think that would be wonderful, and someone's going to do it and I want it to be us, obviously, since that's the situation we're in,'' Rivers said before the game, according to Brian Mahoney of The Associated Press. ''Someone will do it, and I really want to be a part of that.''
While Green's efficient scoring night — 5 for 8 from the floor, 2 for 2 from deep (both of them late in the fourth, keeping the Knicks at bay) and 6 for 6 from the line — topped the score sheet, it was the Celtics' veterans who really keyed the victory.
It was Kevin Garnett's 16 points, 17 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and stiff defense in 39 absolute must-have minutes, topped off by a dagger 20-footer to stifle the Knicks' last run. It was Paul Pierce's huge 10-point third quarter, not only matching the Knicks' post-halftime offensive surge, but extending the Boston lead. And it was Jason Terry, the man who warned Martin not to dance at his funeral, whose 17 points and five big 3-pointers punished the Knicks for lackadaisical closeouts and kept pushing the C's closer and closer to one more home game.
They were the ones who spurred the stunned silence in the Garden stands at points in the second half — silences broken only for brief bursts of hope or, more often, when it was time to jeer a Knicks squad unable to muster critical stops or mount any sustained offense. No Knick was more punchless than Smith, who returned from his one-game suspension for elbowing Terry late in New York's Game 3 win with a nightmarish performance.
The Sixth Man of the Year missed his first 10 shots from the floor, didn't make his first basket until less than three minutes remained in the fourth quarter, and finished with 14 points on 3 for 14 shooting. His final points, fittingly enough, came on an inconsequential last-second 3-pointer that made both his line and the final score seem just a little bit better than they actually were.
Smith's dismal outing somewhat obscures another underwhelming performance by Carmelo Anthony, who followed up his 10 for 35 shooting in Game 4 with an 8 for 24 mark in Game 5. The All-Star led the Knicks with 22 points but missed all five of his 3-point attempts and, like Smith, too often bogged New York's offense down in go-nowhere isolation possessions that finished with a Boston rebound.
The Knicks' sole reliable generator of offense — as it was in Game 4, and as it's been for most of the series — was the high-screen-and-roll game orchestrated by Raymond Felton, who knifed through Boston's half-court defense to the rim for 21 points on 10 for 19 shooting and fed center/roll man Tyson Chandler for a pair of loud alley-oop finishes. But that fruitful combination got lost late somewhere between all those fruitless isolations and all that cranked-up Boston defense, which tightened up enough late to overcome the Celtics' own offensive stagnation and come away with the win.
It's kind of amazing how utterly things fell apart for the Knicks, who got off to an 11-0 lead through the first 4 1/2 minutes before the Celtics scrapped their way back into the game, thanks to aggressive drives and cuts by Brandon Bass (nine points on 3 for 3 shooting in the first) and trips to the free-throw line (a perfect 7 for 7 from the stripe as a team).
With the storm weathered, Boston outscored the Knicks 20-11 through the balance of the period despite dismal shooting (6 for 18 from the floor), especially by Pierce (scoreless on six field-goal attempts), and took control in the second as Pierce and Garnett both found their strokes. Anthony, meanwhile, fired away in vain, going 1 for 7 in the quarter and for the second straight game finding himself largely unable to shake the one-on-one defense of Bass. And even after Bass went to the bench with his third foul, the Celtics didn't miss a beat, holding the Knicks to just two points in the final 2:29 of the second to head into intermission up six, 45-39.
The second half — and specifically the third quarter — had been the Knicks' domain through the first four games of the series as Boston's offense struggled mightily. This time around, though, it was the Celtics who controlled the action, shooting 55.6 percent from the floor in the quarter, holding fast after some early Felton-to-Chandler fun in the pick-and-roll game and letting the Knicks shoot themselves out of the gym — Anthony and Smith went 0 for 7 from the field, New York as a whole missed 14 of 21 shots, and 18 points from Pierce and Terry was enough to keep the Knicks at arm's length.
The Knicks' offensive struggles continued into the fourth quarter, as Boston held them scoreless through the first 3:05 of the frame and getting a scare when Anthony seemed to injure his left shoulder after Garnett grabbed his arm while the two were jostling. The scoring champ grimaced in pain, bending over with his arm dangling; though he stayed in the game, he was mostly quiet, going just 2 for 6 from the floor.
With Smith and Anthony struggling and the Knicks willingly going away from the Felton-orchestrated stuff that worked best for them earlier on, the Celtics seized their opportunity, pouring it on and extending the lead to 15 on a big Green drive and dunk with 9:04 left that seemed to take the life out of the Garden. The Knicks kept chopping, getting as close as five on a Smith 3-pointer with 1:05 remaining, but Garnett outmaneuvered Chandler for a tough jumper with 48 seconds left sealed the deal, ensuring a return trip to Boston and the delay, for at least another couple of days, of all that talk about the potential end of KG and The Truth in green.
"We can’t wait to go back home and play and take it to Game 7," Celtics guard Avery Bradley said after the game.
As for the Knicks, they find themselves reeling, having dropped two straight to turn what seemed like a fait accompli into a two-game series against a veteran team that won't blink in which their two top guns have suddenly joined the Gang Who Can't Shoot Straight.
And yet, Knicks coach Mike Woodson — who has continued to roll with Anthony's failed isos for two straight games, stuck with Smith despite his awful misfirings, went away from starting guard Pablo Prigioni despite the Knicks being +9 in his 13 minutes and has not played Chris Copeland in the past two games despite a desperate need for more scoring — doesn't seem too worried.
"I think we're fine," he said after the game. "Sure we would've loved to close it out and move on, but nobody said it would be easy."
Yeah. But does it have to be this hard?